Tuesday, January 06, 2009

"Ahmed … "


"Would you check that GPS again? Are you sure this is the road to Gaza City?"

Seriously, though. Is the Gaza invasion just another rerun of the same old movie, or does Israel actually have a comprehensive strategy this time?

Nowhere on earth is geopolitics more confused and confusing than in the Middle East. For one thing, the rest of the world has placed its bets — mostly not in Israel's favor — so any local "solution" resonates all over and threatens to spill over.

The Israelis have their backs to the wall. They're damned if they do, damned if they don't. Putting up with rockets lobbed over the border from Gaza by Hamas fanatics — from the Gaza strip that Israel gave away, hauling tens of thousands of its own citizens out by force — makes it look like a pushover. And while the number of Israelis killed by Hamas rockets hasn't been that great, parts of the tiny country have been living under a Sword of Damocles. An Israeli government that allows its own citizens to be terrorized without trying to protect them loses all its moral legitimacy.

Yet sending in the IDF and the air force sets off the tripwire of so-called world opinion. Lovingly photographed and videotaped dead babies and women screaming in pain are grist for the anti-Israel BBC and Muslim-owned media and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the international news services. Disproportionate response. Civilian casualties by the carload. Stop the violence. Peace now.

But a peace that doesn't change the ante-bellum situation isn't a true peace, just a time out until the next round. Which is why it has to be hoped that Israel's political and military leaders have not just a goal in mind — goals are easy to gin up — but a clearly thought-out strategy for achieving it, plus various contingency plans. To put it another way, there has to be a clearly defined definition of victory (because war is so terrible that victory is the only justification for entering into it) and a clearly defined metric for determining if the action is proceeding toward victory.

Whacking Hamas, if such can be accomplished, will give Israel some breathing room and help dispel the aura of vulnerability that has clung to it since the Lebanon debacle three years ago. But it doesn't solve the question of what on earth to do with the Palestinian people. Palestine is not a nation in any real sense, just a stewpot of tribal rivalries worked out through violence and corruption. Even if Hamas is cut off at the knees, its rival Fatah is moderate only by comparison, and it's impossible to imagine the Palestinian people giving up their hatred of Israel that has been boiling away for generations and will almost surely carry on for generations.

Ideally, the Gaza strip should be made part of Egypt and the West Bank part of Jordan — at least then the Palestinians would be under the jurisdiction of real states, and Israel could subject those states to the usual mixture of negotiations, influence, and threats that nations use in dealing with one another. But why would either Egypt or Jordan want the sore paw of a Palestinian-populated territory?

I understand why Israel believes it must take the military option. I hope it knows not only why, but how, and for what end.


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